Radiometric dating blind test
In short, carbon dating is as useful as any other technique, so long as it’s done properly and the results are objectively interpreted.
It is not, however, an inherently error-free or black-and-white method for dating objects.
As samples get older, errors are magnified, and assumptions can render carbon dating all but useless.
For example, variations in greenhouse effects and solar radiation change how much carbon-14 a living organism is exposed to, which drastically changes the “starting point” from which a radiocarbon dating test is based.
For example, a steel spearhead cannot be carbon dated, so archaeologists might perform testing on the wooden shaft it was attached to.
This provides good information, but it only indicates how long ago that piece of wood was cut from a living tree.
Tiny variations within a particular sample become significant enough to skew results to the point of absurdity.
Carbon dating therefore relies on enrichment and enhancement techniques to make smaller quantities easier to detect, but such enhancement can also skew the test results. As a result, carbon dating is only plausible for objects less than about 40,000 years old.
Two plants that died at the same moment, but which naturally contained different levels of radiocarbon, could be dated to drastically different times.If the spear head is dated using animal bones nearby, the accuracy of the results is entirely dependent on the assumed link between the spear head and the animal.This is perhaps the greatest point of potential error, as assumptions about dating can lead to circular reasoning, or choosing confirming results, rather than accepting a “wrong” date.Most archaeological items can’t be directly carbon dated, so their dating is based on testing done on nearby objects or materials.This makes the results subject to the researchers’ assumptions about those objects.